Scientists have determined genetic factors make explain why some people more are more sensitive to pain and may offer a new way to treat it.
Canadian researchers, writing in the journal Nature Medicine, have identified a single human gene that may raise the pain threshold in sensitive individuals. The gene that the researchers identified encodes the pain receptor known as “P2X7” that controls a person’s sensitivity to the two main causes of chronic pain: inflammation and nerve damage.
New therapies based on the finding could help doctors tailor gene-specific treatments for many of the one in five people who suffer from chronic pain, said researchers from McGill University in Montreal and The Hospital for Sick Children, affiliated with the University of Toronto.
"Our findings indicate that it may be possible to develop drugs that block [the action of] this crucial receptor, while leaving its other function intact – thereby killing pain while minimizing side effects," said lead researcher Jeffrey Mogil, a pain expert with McGill's Department of Psychology.
For the study, scientists then examined genetic differences among human patients suffering from two distinct types of persistent pain: chronic post-mastectomy pain and osteoarthritis. In both cases, they found that differences in the gene accounted for variations in their sensitivity to pain.